Have you ever seen vegetables as whimsical as these Ostrich ferns (Matteuccia struthiopteris)? Presenting…fiddleheads! Sure, they look like high fashion Philip Treacy hats, but these greens have humble roots.
According to Canadianliving.ca, “depending on the weather, they begin to appear around late April to early May along river and stream banks, in open woodlands, and at the edges of swamps and marshes across New Brunswick, Quebec and Ontario.”
They are one of the favourite foods to forage in springtime, but note that only the Ostrich fern type is edible (the rest are toxic), so consult an expert first before heading out.
Called fiddleheads because of their resemblance to the arm (head) of the fiddle, they are, actually, the unfurled fronds of the Ostrich fern. And since they are harvested young (before the fronds furl out), they are cut pretty close to the ground. To clean, soak them in several changes of water until the grit is gone.
They sure do look fancy, but in reality, fiddleheads are rustic greens that grow in the wild and have yet to be tamed (read: cultivated) by man. But according to an article I found here, John DeLong of Agriculture Canada reports that fiddleheads are nutritional power houses; therefore, they should be farmed.
The article stated, “‘When we tested the activity, we found that they were twice as strong as blueberries with regard to this antioxidant activity. We didn’t expect that, that was very surprising to us,’ DeLong said Wednesday.
Antioxidants help neutralize free radicals linked to the development of a number of diseases including cancer, cardiovascular disease and other age-related conditions such as Alzheimer’s.
Test results also showed that fiddleheads are packed with another nutrient, omega-3 fatty acids, DeLong said.
‘They have a unique fatty acid that plants don’t normally have, which is only found in fish,’ he said.”
Are you now convinced to try fiddleheads? Here’s a little cooking tip: boil for at least 15 minutes or steam for at least 10 minutes. I also sautéed them afterwards with chives that I picked from my in-law’s garden. It’s your call: you can eat them this way…or you can also add them to pasta. I used quinoa pasta (a healthy, gluten-free alternative to regular pasta) , and I made a chive-parsley pesto-like sauce to dress it. Yum, so fresh!
And in case you are wondering how they taste like, they’re somewhat earthy, grassy, and nutty. They taste a like asparagus, but grassier.
- 2 cups fiddleheads, washed and cleaned
- a few stalks of chives (use as many or few as you want)
- extra virgin olive oil
- salt and pepper to season
- red chili flakes (optional)
- Clean fiddleheads by brushing away dirt and / or washing and soaking them in two changes of water.
- Put stove on medium heat and boil or steam them for 10 to 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Drain and dry well.
- In another pan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add chives to the pan and sweat for a minute or less.
- Add the fiddleheads and sauté them until fragrant, about 2 to 3 minutes.
- Serve immediately or add to your choice of pasta*.